By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
This past June, Maestro Riccardo Muti, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, (CSO) was honored by the Chicago West Community Music Center (CWCMC) for his commitment to promoting music as a universal tenet, creating a strong bond between an orchestra and its communities, and supporting the CSO’s African American Network.
During this event, which was CWCMC’s 20-year anniversary gala that also honored Chicago native and actor Robert Townsend, Maestro Muti was so impressed with the students that he promised to lead a workshop at CWCMC in the fall, which was sweet music to the Center’s ears.
Howard and Darlene Sandifer started CWCMC after regular music and arts programming was removed from public schools.
In late September, Maestro Muti made good on his promise, as he led a Special Community Rehearsal with students and faculty of CWCMC, which also featured sensational soprano JeSelle Jakes practicing a song from the opera “Vissi d’arte” from “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini. The event was hosted by the CSO’s African American Network.
The rehearsal, held at the Columbus Park Refectory in Austin, was well attended and simply fabulous. Audience members were mesmerized with the young music students and the ability of Maestro Muti to relate to them in a thorough, patient instruction that I’m sure they will remember forever. After all, Maestro Muti is one of the preeminent conductors of our day. He has more than 50 years’ experience, but this gravitas didn’t lend itself to stuffiness or arrogance.
Soprano Jakes, 19, has been with CWCMC for four years, attends Kennedy King College, and Maestro Muti and Jakes enjoyed a good rapport as he helped her fully understand and enunciate the Italian language, which she has been brilliantly executing.
Howard Sandifer said: “She’s a natural and she found us. She came to Chicago West Community Music Center and wanted to audition, and she was very quiet and shy. However, her voice was so beautiful and clear. She came up in church and she sings Gospel, Blues, R&B and Jazz; she takes well to all the genres.”
Jakes’ shy demeanor belies her powerful delivery during the rehearsal and previously at the Gala. “She doesn’t read music but listens to recordings of the arias. She sings the language,” Howard Sandifer added.
During the rehearsal, Maestro Muti carefully critiqued and complimented the students’ performance. Naturally, the students and the Center’s Principal Music Director, Charles Li, appreciated the time spent with them.
The orchestra, whose members played cellos, flutes, violins and clarinets, first played Schubert’s Entra’acte No. 3 from “Rosamunde.” Afterward, Jakes joined Maestro Muti at the piano, and shortly thereafter the three forces joined for a crowd-pleasing performance.
“It is a huge honor to have the best classical music conductor in the world visiting our institution,” Howard Sandifer said.
Jakes struggled a bit with a portion of the aria during the rehearsal, but in the end her patience and hard work paid off.
“Perché, perché, Signor,” Jakes sang, as she shook the rafters with her high voice. “Ah perché me ne rimuneri così?”
Translated: “Why, why, Lord, Ah, why do you reward me thus?”
The aria “Vissi d’arte” lays out the story of a captured man (Mario Cavaradossi) and his lover’s (Tosca) choice to either listen to his screams as he’s tortured to death or to sleep with the captor to save her man’s life. The reward to which Tosca refers is a sad one—where she’s wondering what she has done to deserve this fate. On the other hand, Jakes’ reward of having such an instrument in her natural voice and a community rallying behind her can only lead to a reward of good fortune in her future endeavors.
For more information about CWCMC, visit https://www.cwcmc.org/.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, editor [email protected].